The Jolt: Ex-CDC chief urged current one to expose White House meddling by arranging his own dismissal

Earlier this week, we told you of Dr. William Foege, the former head of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who co-chaired an effort to create an outline for coronavirus vaccine distribution once the vaccine becomes available.

What we didn’t know was that two weeks earlier, Foege, who still lives in Atlanta, wrote a private letter to current CDC Director Robert Redfield, suggesting that he arrange his own firing as a public protest against White House interference. From USA Today, which obtained a copy of that letter:

Foege, who has not been a vocal critic of the agency’s handling of the novel coronavirus, called on Redfield to openly address the White House’s meddling in the agency’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis, then accept the political sacrifice that would follow. He recommended that Redfield commit to writing the administration’s failures – and his own – so there would be a record that could not be dismissed.

“You could upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing,” Foege wrote to Redfield. He said simply resigning without coming clean would be insufficient. “Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country. It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”

-

***

On that same topic: The New England Journal of Medicine has a rare and brutal editorial condemning – though not by name – the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. A taste:

Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making.

And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.

-

***

Already posted: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows hosted a lavish wedding for his daughter in Atlanta this May, despite a statewide order and city of Atlanta guidelines that banned gatherings of more than 10 people to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

***

Your good news break: Sarah Hawkins Warren, 38, has become the first justice on the Georgia Supreme Court to give birth while holding that office. Warren sends us word that Virginia Kathleen Warren was born last Thursday. Both mother/justice and newborn are now at home. Justice Warren and her husband Blaise already were the parents of a 6-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

***

We may be done with debates: The Commission on Presidential Debates announced this morning that they would shift next Wednesday’s presidential debate in Miami to a virtual affair, with the two presidential candidates participating from separate locations. President Donald Trump, in an interview on Fox Business, immediately said he would not participate.

***

Edward Panetta, the former, longtime coach for the University of Georgia’s debate team, sent us a breakdown of last night’s vice presidential debate between U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. We’re unable to offer the entire analysis, but here are a few of Panetta’s points:

Overall: [B]oth debaters often failed to directly answer the questions asked by moderator Susan Page. While she had more control of the debate than Chris Wallace did last week, she was unable to effectively enforce the time limits. The Commission on Presidential Debate needs to work on the mechanics of the debates themselves. The moderator needs the ability to better regulate the speaking time and to ask follow-up questions when their initial questions are ignored. Absent these tools, we will continue to see the debaters quickly pivot to talking points."

The Republican: Mike Pence exhibited an authoritative tone throughout the debate. Over the course of the ninety minute exchange he was able to express the core campaign themes of the Trump/Pence campaign. Conservative supporters will be pleased, given the chaotic performance by President Trump last week. Additionally, Mr. Pence aggressively pushed the Supreme Court packing argument by raising the question himself and demanding an answer from Senator Harris. This will be a wedge that the Trump campaign will use in the next four weeks to try and move the focus of the campaign from COVID.

His persistent references to the fracking issue make sense when one thinks of the importance of this issue for the voters in all-important Pennsylvania. It was interesting that Pence did not take this opportunity to express the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade through federal court appointments.

The Democrat: Senator Harris came across as a knowledgeable person who could serve as a national leader – which is the most important takeaway of the night. ...Given that the Biden/Harris team leads in most battleground state polls, she performed well and left the state of the race unchanged. Unlike Pence, she needed to introduce herself to the country and did so in brief but effective fashion. Like Joe Biden last week, Kamala Harris made an effort to speak directly to voters. She was particularly effective in addressing the COVID issue and its impact on working class voters. Many critics will point to her unwillingness to answer the Supreme Court packing question as a failure.

While neither Biden nor Harris seems willing to provide a direct answer, Harris’s response highlighted the lack of racial diversity in the 50+ Trump administration federal appeals court appointments. Finally, she was forceful and measured when responding to Mr. Pence. While some will claim she missed a number of opportunities to push back in the debate, the cost of being more aggressive might have been to trigger both gendered and racial stereotypes.

***

A familiar name resurfaces: We were reading through a piece by The Hill newspaper in D.C., about a brewing revolt by business groups over President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from COVID-19 relief negotiations. These three paragraphs jumped out at us:

Trade associations stopped short of blaming Trump by name, but their strongly worded criticisms served as an implicit rebuke of the president’s tactics.

Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said it was “unacceptable and inconceivable” that the talks were called off.

“Millions of jobs and the livelihoods of people who have built their small business for decades are just withering away because our leaders in Washington are prioritizing politics over people. America’s hotel industry is on the brink of collapse,” Rogers said.

-

Rogers, a Republican, was once the majority leader in the Georgia state Senate. He resigned from the chamber in 2012. Rogers represented a large slice of Cherokee County, which went 72% for Trump in 2016.

***

Battleground Georgia: The University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball rated Georgia a “tossup” this morning, meaning three national forecasters now consider the state up for grabs in the Electoral College. From the piece:

While Georgia and Arizona are a lot different -- the former’s diversity is driven by Black voters, while the latter’s is driven by Hispanic voters -- one commonality is that both states have a huge metro area where Biden seems poised to improve on Clinton. In Georgia’s case, that is metro Atlanta, with the suburban congressional districts GA-6 and GA-7 representing prime candidates to switch from Trump to Biden.

-

The Crystal Ball also downgraded the U.S. Senate special election race for Kelly Leoffler’s seat from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.”

***

Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu brought us the story this week of the sudden resignation of Georgia Forestry Commission director Chuck Williams after his arrest on a shoplifting charge.

This morning, we hear from Williams for the first time since his resignation, in which he reveals a “mental health-related self-destructive behavior pattern.” Here’s Williams' statement in full:

"For most of my adult life, I have had the opportunity to focus on serving others and my community through public, political and civil service. In the course of this service, I ignored some deep-seated personal issues of an emotional nature, to my detriment, and as a result I developed a mental health-related self-destructive behavior pattern.

"I chose to resign as the State Forester of Georgia on August 14 to address my health issues and to seek help from my family, my Church, my friends and professional healthcare providers. I’ve taken several oaths of loyalty to our great state, and it was clear to me, knowing that I have violated the oath of an agency department head, that resignation was my only prudent course of action.

“Today, my focus is on getting better, doing better and hopefully helping others cope with life’s stressors in a healthful manner.”

-

***

In endorsement news: House Majority Leader Jon Burns of Newington — one of the top-ranking Republicans in the statehouse — is backing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins' bid for Senate.

He joins House Speaker David Ralston and several dozen GOP state legislators who are backing Collins over U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, sharpening a divide with Gov. Brian Kemp and other supporters of the incumbent.

***

Who’s not staying home on Sunday: White churches are far more likely to be holding in-person services these days compared to churches with a predominantly Black congregation, highlighting the racial disparities at play in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Buzzfeed News reporter visited Georgia to examine the phenomenon, which has been evident nationwide:

Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the state on April 24; a month later, Trump declared places of worship essential, settling a nationwide dispute as to what category they fell under during the pandemic. By then, and soon after, many evangelical churches led by white ministers with predominantly white congregations in Georgia were opening their doors.

Many Black churches, some of which had been closed since March 15, continued digital services and one-on-one Zoom meetings with members of their congregation. “I would be overwhelmingly reckless and irresponsible to put 6,500 people in my sanctuary while COVID numbers in Georgia are still escalating,” Pastor Jamal Bryant [said], adding that the divide on masks wearing is that of a political nature and has nothing to do with theology.

State data shows the statistics mirror other parts of the country: Older adults and Black people have disproportionately died of the coronavirus. Data in June showed that 79% of people hospitalized in Atlanta for COVID-19 were Black.

-

***

Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators are refusing to respond to our questions about whether they have taken additional tests to ensure they are COVID-19 free.

You will recall that Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both announced Friday that rapid testing showed them virus free. They and many other GOP lawmakers had taken the tests as a precaution after word spread of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis since they spent time in his orbit.

But we also know that testing is just a snapshot in time and people have developed symptoms and tested positive just days after receiving a negative result and with no additional exposure.

And it’s no longer just about exposure to Trump. Loeffler was maskless during the White House event for Amy Coney Barrett, and she sat directly behind a Senate colleague from Utah who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The following week, both senators mingled and dined with colleagues with the number of confirmed cases now standing at three.

We have asked them to publicly disclose if they took any follow up testing after Friday and what the results were. No response.

***

In endorsement news: State Sen. Nikema Williams, handpicked by the Democratic Party to replace U.S. Rep. John Lewis on the ballot in November, announced that six former candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination had endorsed her campaign.

The list includes U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, now the party’s vice presidential nominee; Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; former housing secretary Julián Castro; former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; and author Marianne Williamson.

In Other News